Question: I am a local small business owner. Business has been great and I am currently building out a second location. My contractor mentioned a law about gender neutral bathrooms, but I thought it only applied to schools. Is there a bathroom law I need to plan for as a private business owner?
Answer: Your contractor is right. California is now the first state in the country to require that all single user bathrooms be gender neutral. This means that all single user bathrooms must be identified as all gender. This recently enacted new law applies to restrooms in all businesses and places of public accommodation (as well as government buildings). While the law does not go into effect until March 1, 2017, if you are in the process of constructing, remodeling or otherwise updating your business’ single user restroom, you should be sure it complies with the requirements now to avoid the need for unnecessary work in the future. Moreover, this law is not limited to new construction, so you may need to make changes in your business’ current location as well. Single user men’s and women’s rooms will soon be a thing of the past.
The law is limited to single user restrooms. There are two factors to look at in determining whether your restroom qualifies as a single user restroom for purposes of this law. First, the restroom must be limited to one stall, or one stall and one urinal. Second, it must have a lock controlled by the user. The law does not specify if this means a lock on the exterior door of the restroom itself (as opposed to one only on the stall) but that is likely what it refers to.
This new law will apply to any single user restrooms at your business, whether they are available to the public or only to employees. If your business has a bathroom that is covered by the law, you will need to ensure that it has appropriate signage, compliant with the California Building Code, indicating that the restroom is for a single user at a time, of any gender, or for family or assisted use. Building inspectors will now be enforcing this rule, so you should absolutely ensure that the signage being installed for your business’ new location is compliant – and you should update your signage at your business’ currently location as soon as is practicable. It has been reported that compliant signage is estimated to cost about $40 per restroom.
This may also be an excellent time to evaluate whether your new and existing restrooms are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As you probably know the ADA contains numerous requirements for accessibility and related issues for restrooms in commercial establishments and places of public accommodation. If the build out of your business’ new location involves any amount of significant work, it will almost certainly trigger several obligations under the ADA. As for your business’ current location, merely changing the signage on the restroom should not trigger any ADA compliance issues in and of itself. However, your existing location it quite likely subject to many ADA requirements already, and you may want to discuss with your contractor whether you are currently meeting those requirements.